Sgt. Don Jackson Founder

Who is Don Jackson A.K.A Diop Kamau

Don Jackson is an African American civil rights activist and investigative journalist who has pioneered groundbreaking investigations into two of the nation's most pernicious dimensions of policing: bias-based profiling and the widespread refusal by the police to properly document serious allegations of abuse and egregious misconduct. 

Jackson was born on March 16, 1958, at BonAir hospital in South Central Los Angeles. He is the fourth child of Margie Faye Woods, a nurse, and Woodrow Jackson, one of the first African Americans to join the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office. Woodrow and Margie raised Don along with his five siblings in a neighborhood of manicured lawns and middle-class homes in Compton, California. Don remembers his father rushing out of their home in the midst of the Watts rebellion in 1965 to join other police officers attempting to control the violence.

Jackson grew up in an environment where hard work was rewarded, and education was encouraged. He attended Birmingham high school where he excelled in sports, serving as captain of both his high school football and wrestling teams. He went on to California Lutheran College on an athletic scholarship, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

After college, Jackson joined the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. His time there was punctuated by tests of his character and physical endurance. Jackson completed 1500 sit-ups during a physical stamina test. Despite the Ventura County police academy’s record of washing out black recruits, Jackson graduated from the academy and later transferred to the Hawthorne Police Department where he would hone his skills as an elite undercover investigator. Jackson rose through the ranks quickly at Hawthorne as he sponsored several daring undercover operations that included stopping a bank robbery-in-progress, breaking up an attempted murder, arresting the perpetrators of a rape, and the recovery of a half-million in stolen property

Jackson was taught by his parents that when you are African American you must often be twice as good as your competitors. With that in mind, he earned the top score on three consecutive promotional exams to become the youngest sergeant on the force. But as his career flourished, Jackson became frustrated with the routine brutality and frequent racism displayed by his peers.

Jackson rebelled against his brothers in blue, first by filing complaints about misconduct directed against minority citizens and later by going public with a complaint of racism at the Hawthorne Police Department. As Jackson’s battle with the Hawthorne PD spilled into the media, his father, who was near retirement, was stopped by a group of Pomona California police officers. The officers identified the elder Jackson as a potential robbery suspect. He was taken from his car and brutally attacked. A midnight phone call between Jackson and his dad would change the course of Jackson’s life: After learning of the brutality his father suffered, Jackson decided to take on the police in a one-man war against abusive cops.

Jackson was a pioneer in the early development of hidden camera testing and the recording of public officials. He used cutting edge computer technology to document police misconduct in 5,000 investigations in over 100 cities, often accompanied by a rotating list of volunteers and undercover investigators willing to put their lives on the line to test the police. News organizations became aware of Jackson’s efforts and often went in tow.

Jackson’s most well-known investigation was the 1989 test of the Long Beach, California, Police Department. While testing profiling among officers for a news broadcast, Jackson was beaten, thrown into a plate glass window, and arrested. As is often the case in hundreds of similar incidents, the officers falsified their arrest report. However, unlike the many hundreds of police-citizen interactions which are not filmed, this one was captured on video. 

The video recording of Jackson’s arrest exploded on national television and resonated in a way that other stories about police misconduct failed to. The videotaped arrest and the obviously false police report of the incident gave police critics a formidable weapon. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, along with others, rallied to Jackson’s support and called for hearings and investigations.

In 1992, the California State Assembly held hearings, and Jackson was called to testify. The hearings resulted in a new law, which increased penalties for false reports to a felony and added requirements for all officers in the state of California to receive racial sensitivity training (Ca. Penal code 118.1).

Though a new law had been passed, Jackson was not satisfied. 

Jackson’s one-man war on the cops would change in 1991 when he met the love of his life, actress Tyra Ferrell, at a Hollywood party. Ferrell was hanging out with friends at a house party when she and Jackson shared a glance. It was love at first sight and the two would become inseparable a year later when they married. 

The marriage ceremony was consecrated at the deathbed of Jackson’s mother Margie, who was in the final stages of breast cancer. Her final joy was watching her son take his vows of marriage with a woman she adored.

If anyone thought the marriage would slow down Jackson’s work, it had just the opposite effect. Ferrell, an A-list African American actress who had just completed the trailblazing film Boyz n the Hood, joined Jackson to support his cause. They left Southern California together in 1992, driving and camping out on a Goldwing motorcycle for their honeymoon. 

With Ferrell’s support, Jackson purchased the most sophisticated recording equipment available and went on a tear across the country, producing eight Emmy- and Edward-R.-Morrow-award-winning investigations into police misconduct and racial profiling. The investigations forced policy changes, police firings, and thousands of hours of retraining for officers stemming from the high-profile exposes Jackson produced with local and national media. 

Jackson traveled the country with his wife. Their daughter was born in 1994, in Houston Tx. After her birth, the family began traveling together in a 40-foot RV hauled by a Ford F350 pick-up truck loaded with hi-tech investigative equipment. As Jackson hit the streets, Ferrell stood by his side, guiding his investigations. Many times, Ferrell was up all night, waiting by the phone to make sure Jackson got home safe. 

In 1994, Jackson and Ferrell started to provide a safe place for citizens to report complaints. Over 25 years, the website has processed more than 20,000 complaints for citizens free of charge. Through the website, Ferrell and Jackson have pioneered hundreds of investigations resulting in prosecutions of police officers, policy changes, and settlements for indigent victims. Today, their work stands alone as the only national hidden camera testing of police complaint intake procedures and racial profiling ever done. Their work is a 600-video YouTube archive of investigations on behalf of police misconduct victims. Many police agencies have made policy changes as a direct result of Jackson’s hidden camera investigations. Jackson and Ferrell’s videotapes and training materials have been utilized to educate officers and citizens alike. 

In 1994, as a political statement, Jackson changed his name to Diop Kamau (Quiet Soldier) to acknowledge his daughter’s birth. Twenty-four years later Jackson returned to his birth name, Don Jackson, as a tribute to his father, Woodrow Jackson, the best cop he had ever known. 

Master’s Degree, Criminal Justice, Penn State University
Bachelor’s Degree, Criminal Justice, California Lutheran University

Don Jackson Editorials About Policing and Law Enforcement, Career Highlights

Los Angeles Times Editorials:
An editorial about the use of deadly force by police officers 

An editorial about how police officers respond to domestic violence reports in minority neighborhoods.

An editorial about the 1991 Los Angeles riots

New York Times Editorial:

A partial list of articles and other stories

People Magazine:

Today Show the morning after Long Beach arrest:

Debate with Long Beach police attorney:

CNN Crossfire:

Hawthorne PD:

Dalton street raid:

On the street with a camera, 1988:

1991 presentation before the National Council of African-American Men, 1991, C-SPAN:


Steve Kroft:
Emmy-Award-Winning Reports

26 investigative videos—partial list

Partial List of Commendations and Important Professional Highlights

In 1980, I was a deputy working in the Ventura County jail. An older woman visiting the jail appeared distraught. Her son was being housed as a prisoner and she was terrified. I did what I could to console her. Later she wrote a very kind letter to the sheriff about our interaction.

In 1983, a young woman was sexually assaulted by 5 suspects in a park. I was the first unit on the scene. I did what I could to get good information and comfort the victim. I was so angry by what they had done to her that I decided to spend my entire shift looking for the suspects no matter how many days it took. I was fortunate. I located the suspects’ vehicles within a few hours of the assault. I confronted one of the suspects at his home and obtained the names of the others involved. My investigation led to the arrest of all but one of the suspects. It is something I am very proud of.

In 1985, I responded to a call of a man with a gun. Little did I know, the suspect had murdered three people and was about to murder two more. When I arrived at the location, the suspect was in the room with his girlfriend’s infant child, aiming a 22-caliber rifle at the infant. He had murdered his two roommates hours earlier and intended to kill his girlfriend and the infant. I chased him across the city and toward the Los Angeles airport at high speed. He lost control of his car at 120th and La Cienega Boulevard. As his vehicle came to a stop, he shot himself in the head with a rifle.

In 1985, I was an undercover detective on the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Dept. ìRed Team. The Red Team was an elite multijurisdictional undercover surveillance unit specializing in serious crimes. The team was made up of the best detectives across the LA County South Bay area. Our job was to follow dangerous criminal suspects without detection.
I received a commendation for playing a key role in arresting a gang of armed bank robbers. The bank robbers had a sophisticated detection system to pick up surveillance. They would drive multiple vehicles in different directions through malls and parking lots to shake and expose police surveillance. In one incident, they lost the entire team through their tactics. But they did not lose me. I stayed with them until we got on the Ventura Freeway Highway 101. I requested a helicopter to watch them from the air, finally allowing me to back off.

They were on their way to a bank robbery in two stolen vehicles. We arrested them during a crime in progress at a Bank of America in Woodland Hills, California. I was parked in the parking lot as the bank robbers unloaded shotguns and entered the bank. As the robbers went into the bank, we disabled their cars. We arrested them without incident when they attempted to flee.

Our team was made up of some of the best cops in the country, who rarely used force and focused all their attention on apprehending criminals. We did not have a single excessive force complaint, and our conviction rate was 100 percent. If we arrested you, you were guilty of the crime.

Don Jackson continues his quest for justice through his website where citizens may report police misconduct without any fear of harassment or interference.